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History of Suriname

Early History

The history of Suriname dates from 3000 BC, when Native Americans first inhabited the area. Present-day Suriname was the home to many distinct indigenous cultures. The largest tribes were the Arawaks, a nomadic coastal tribe that lived from hunting and fishing, and the Caribs. The Arawaks (Kali'na) were the first inhabitants of Suriname; later, the Caribs arrived, and conquered the Arawaks using their sailing ship. They settled in Galibi (Kupali Yumï, meaning "tree of the forefathers") on the mouth of the Marowijne river. While the larger Arawak and Carib tribes lived off the coast and savanna, smaller groups of indigenous peoples lived in the rainforest inland, such as the Akurio, Trió, Wayarekule, Warrau and Wayana.

The Coming of Europeans

The first Europeans who came to Suriname were Dutch traders who visited the area along with other parts of the South America's 'Wild Coast'. The first attempts to settle the area by Europeans was in 1630, when English settlers led by Captain Marshall attempted to found a colony. They cultivated crops of tobacco, but the venture failed financially and were eventually conquered by the Dutch in 1666.

In 1651 a second attempt to establish an English colony was made by Lord Willoughby, the governor of Barbados. The expedition was led by Anthony Rowse, who established a colony and called it Willoughbyland. It consisted of around 500 sugar plantations and a fort (Fort Willoughby). Most of the work was done by the 2000 African slaves in the colony. There were around 1,000 whites there, soon joined by other Europeans and Brazilian Jews. The settlement was invaded by the Dutch (from the Zeeland region), led by Abraham Crijnssen, on 27 February 1667. Fort Willoughby was captured and renamed Fort Zeelandia.

On 31 July 1667, the English and Dutch signed the Treaty of Breda, in which for the time being the status quo was respected; the Dutch could keep occupying Suriname and the British the formerly Dutch colony New Amsterdam (modern day New York). Willoughbyland was renamed Netherlands Guiana. This arrangement was made official in the Treaty of Westminster of 1674, after the British had regained and again lost Suriname in 1667 and the Dutch regained New Amsterdam in 1673.

Abolition of Slavery

In the first half of the 18th century, agriculture flourished in Suriname. Most of the work on the plantations was done by African slaves. The treatment of these slaves was bad, and many slaves escaped to the jungle. These Maroons (also known as "Djukas" or "Bakabusi Nengre") often returned to attack the plantations. Famous leaders of the Surinam Maroons were Alabi, Boni and Broos (Captain Broos). They formed a sort of buffer zone between the Europeans who settled along the coast and main rivers, and the unconquered Native American tribes of the inland regions.

The Maroons have contributed significantly to the abolition of slavery. A contemporary description of this situation in Suriname can be found in Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam by John Gabriel Stedman.

Suriname was occupied by the British in 1799, after the Netherlands were incorporated by France, and was returned to the Dutch in 1816, after the defeat of Napoleon. The Dutch abolished slavery only in 1863; although the British had already abolished it during their short rule. The slaves were, however, not released until 1873; up to that date they conducted obligatory but paid work at the plantations. In the meantime, many more workers had been imported from the Netherlands East Indies, mostly Chinese inhabitants of that colony. After 1873, many Hindu labourers where imported from India. This emigration was ended by Mohandas Gandhi in 1916. After that date, many labourers were again imported from the Netherlands East Indies, especially Java.

In the 20th century, the natural resources of Suriname, rubber, gold and bauxite were exploited. The US company Alcoa had a claim on a large area in Suriname where bauxite, from which aluminium can be made, was found.

Post Independence

In 1954, Suriname gained self-government, with the Netherlands retaining control of defence and foreign affairs.

In 1973, the local government, led by the NPK (a largely Creole party) started negotiations with the Dutch government about independence, which was granted at November 25, 1975. The Dutch instituted an aid programme worth $1.5 billion to last till 1985. The first President of the country was Johan Ferrier, with Henck Arron (leader of the Surinam National Party) as Prime Minister. Roughly a third of the population emigrated to the Netherlands, fearing that the new country would not be able to survive.

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